Temple priest and family still missing after landslide

Five persons including a temple priest and his family members are missing after a landslide in Brahmagiri Hills near Talacauvery in Kodagu district of Karnataka on Thursday morning. The missing priest Narayana Achar and his wife, brother and two assistants are among the missing persons. They are Narayana Achar (70), his wife Shantha (70), brother Anandatheertha Swami (87) and two assistants — Ravi Kiran (26) and Srinivas (30).

The search efforts for missing persons following the landslide, however, have stalled after rescue personnel experienced difficulties in moving an excavator to the area devastated by the landslide.

“The roads in Bhagamandala are flooded and there are 4-5 minor landslides on the road to Talacauvery. These landlslips need to be cleared first before the search operations can begin,” Kodagu Deputy Commissioner Annies Kanmani Joy explained. The landslide occurred near Talacauvery and rescue personnel dispatched from the district headquarters of Madikeri have to go via Bhagamandala.

The temple of which Narayana Achar was the priest was dedicated to Goddess Kaveri and overlooks a tank where water collects from a nearby spring. This ancient tank is considered by devotees as the origin of River Kaveri.

Anandatheertha, who had worked as a school teacher in Mumbai for many years, returned to his native place three decades ago to become the traditional trustee and administrator of the temples in Talacauvery and Bhagamandala. He had actively engaged with almost all attempts to save the Western Ghats and the Kaveri from human encroachments and destruction. He travelled extensively across the length and width of the river urging local communities to save the river as their lifeline.

The Deputy Commissioner added that the landslide washed away houses and trees into the Cauvery river making it difficult to begin search efforts. “There is a lot of water due to the fact that a part of the hill slid down and joined the river. The intensity of the rains will have to reduce as well,” Annies added.

Local residents and eye-witnesses said that there are slim chances of the priest Narayana Achar and his family surviving the landslide. Narayana Achar is the chief priest of the Talacauvery temple. The door of Narayana’s car was found floating near the Talacauvery Sangama, a few kilometres away from the landslide area.

Three relief camps have been opened in the district in Karadigodu, Virajpet and Bhagamandala. Those camped in the relief camp in Karadigodu were tested for the coronavirus as a precautionary measure.

“We have advised residents living in areas at-risk of landslides to vacate their house. Some of the residents in our village have left to go to safer areas,” Dhannanjay, a resident of Monnangeri village in Kodagu said.

Minor landslides were reported across Kodagu district including in uninhabited areas. The landslide near Talacauvery was the only one to occur in a place where people were still staying.

The landslides were triggered by heavy rainfall reported in Kodagu district on Wednesday and Thursday. The rainfall in several places in Virajpet and Madikeri taluks was measured between 115 to 204 mm.

The disaster evoked jarring memories of the floods and landslides which devastated Kodagu in 2018 taking 18 lives and displacing over 7,000 people. A similar landslide was reported in Thora village of the district in 2019 which led to the death of ten residents.

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